United Airlines Sues Pilots Union Over Sick Days

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United Airlines is suing the pilots union, claiming that pilots are taking unlawful sick days.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Meanwhile, United Airlines says its pilots are abusing sick leave and causing hundreds of flight cancellations. The carrier has asked a federal court to step in and stop what it's calling unlawful job actions. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: United filed its lawsuit against the Airline Pilots Association and four pilots in particular, accusing them of orchestrating a slowdown by getting pilots to call in sick and discouraging others from flying additional hours. United calls the alleged action a deliberate and unacceptable protest of its plan to shrink the airline's fleet by 100 planes and cut 950 pilots' jobs to deal with soaring fuel prices. Spokesperson Jean Medina says the pilots' actions have hurt the airline and its customers.

Ms. JEAN MEDINA (Spokesperson, United Airlines): We cancelled 329 flights in less than 10 day. That was between July 19th and July 27th, inconveniencing some 36,000 customers. And based on our analysis, the probability of this being random is zero.

CORLEY: United also says the rate of co-pilot sick leave has more than doubled this summer. Union officials say their attorneys still must review the lawsuit, but they call United's characterizations inaccurate and misleading.

Airline analyst Richard Aboulafia with The Teal Group calls the lawsuit a surprising escalation of a familiar fight.

Mr. RICHARD ABOULAFIA (The Teal Group): The only way for U.S. airlines to get pricing power back, given high fuel prices, is to cut capacity. And that, of course, jeopardizes pilots' stubs.

CORLEY: Pay stubs, that is. United officials say the lawsuit against the union was a last resort after efforts to mitigate the plan cuts failed.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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